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Two campus winners named in university-wide photo contest

WINNING PHOTOS: Sections of the pictures taken by Prof. Jason Ramsay (top photo) and student Yunke (Alex) Li (bottom photo) can be seen here. Almost 500 entries were submitted in five categories to the Bulletin photo contest.

by Mary Ann Gratton

A faculty member and a student from U of T Scarborough have won prizes in the university-wide photo contest organized by the University of Toronto Bulletin.

Jason Ramsay, an instructor in the Health Studies program, won in the Campus category for his photo of the cooling tower stacks atop the Humanities wing. His photo was titled “Generator”. Student Yunke (Alex) Li took the prize in the Flora & Fauna Category for a haunting photograph of two birds pictured over a mountainous terrain. Both photos were published in the March 24 issue of the U of T Bulletin and posted in subsequent issues of the e-Bulletin, which is distributed by email to all staff and faculty at the university.

A total of 490 photos from staff, faculty and students across all three campuses of U of T were submitted to the contest, which was judged by members the Bulletin design team. The contest was divided into five categories: Best Overall; Flora & Fauna; Campus; People; and Cellphone Photos.

Ramsay’s photo of the towers and stacks above H-wing – a landmark well known to the Scarborough campus community – was described as “futuristic” and was praised by the judges for its angles, forms and unusual bottom-up viewpoint. “This unique perspective of U of T is rarely seen in other images of the university. While the noble historicism of the campus’ buildings is prevalent in most of its photography, this piece instead focuses on the university’s often-unlauded futuristic architecture. With its composition referencing Russian Constructivism, this piece represents a stark yet beautiful vision of the campus as a future world.” To view the full image, click here.

Ramsay has been an instructor in the Health Studies program in the social science department for two years, and took his winning photo, “Generator” in August 2007. He chose to photograph the towers on top of the Andrews structure because “I like the building. It’s unlike the rest of the buildings on this campus and St. George. There is something mysterious and iconic about the cooling towers.”

Asked what he was aiming to achieve, Ramsay says “It’s complicated. The photo has both a retro and futuristic feel, like Orwell’s 1984 as we see it now. The scene also reminded me of the 1970s science fiction film, Logan’s Run, which is burned into my childhood memory. It was a portrait of a futuristic time, but I also like the inside of the building, and I wanted to make the resulting negatives look like they were ‘found’ or salvaged from an archaeological dig and then developed, producing this glimpse into the past. I wanted to divorce the building from its mundane uses, and have the photo be a meditation of the future that was supposed to arrive but did not.”

He says the photo is heavily influenced by constructivism, especially the photography of Laszlo Moholo-Nagy. The visuals also reminded Ramsay of his trip to New Mexico, where he photographed the Ranchos de Taos church made famous in the paintings of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. “The concrete reminded me of adobe, and there is something secular but oddly holy about that cooling tower. It has power, but you can’t see in.”

Although Ramsay owns several cameras, his award-winning shot was taken with an inexpensive plastic Holga camera that he loves. “It produces and image that to me, as a psychologist, is a much better visual metaphor for our memory than a digital image. For me, photography is also about trying to convey what I was feeling when I took the picture.” He has been taking photographs since he was 15 years old, and won several awards in an Art and Photography contest at U of T’s Hart House back when he was a student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at U of T. In 2008, Ramsay organized a photography show of his trip to Venice and is working to set up a web site of his photos.  He has set up a flickr account called “J.T.R’s Photostream.” It can be viewed by clicking here:

Student Yunke (Alex) Li’s untitled photo, taken in summer 2008 in his native China, was also praised by the judges for its mood and perspective. “The rich and mysterious land revealed in this photograph captures the sublime. Earth, sky and animal merge as a unified yet indistinct whole. The organic forms and muted colours of the stone and swirling clouds provide a dream-like background for the figures of the two birds which punctuate its landscape.” To view the full image, click here.

Li, a second-year management student, first came to U of T Scarborough as a student in the Green Path program that prepares Chinese students for undergraduate life at U of T. This is his first time winning a photo contest. “It’s a surprise for me, because this was such a big contest and I never thought I’d win,” he says. The shot was taken while he was on a trip to China’s southwestern Yunnan province, between Lijiang City and MeiLi Snow Mountain, which is largely rural. Locals claim that the mountainous terrain in northern Yunnan was the inspiration for “Shangri-La,” a fictional land made famous in the book Lost Horizon. “Yunnan is a photographer’s dream,” said Li. “The average altitude in Yunnan is quite high, but the latitude is very low. Because of this, the weather is special and different from many other spaces in China. There are very rare animals and plants. I took this photo in Shangri-la one afternoon when the weather was not good, and you can see that it is raining far away.”

Asked about his approach to photography, Li responded: “I never think of what I do as ‘photography’. To me it’s just taking pictures, and my only purpose is to record beautiful moments in life and share them with people. I don’t think too much about it.” He has only been taking photos for about one-and-a-half years, and he took his award-winning shot with a Canon40D, but he has since purchased a 5D Mark II with eight different lenses. He has set up an electronic photo file of images, including others from Yunnan, on, under the name “Theo Lee’s Photostream.” To view Li’s other photography, click here:


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